Choosing Between Alternative Spellings of Sounds: The Role of Context

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Abstract

We investigated how university students select between alternative spellings of phonemes in written production by asking them to spell nonwords whose final consonants have extended spellings (e.g., ff[Single Right-Pointing Angle Quotation Mark] for /f/) and simpler spellings (e.g., f[Single Right-Pointing Angle Quotation Mark] for /f/). Participants’ choices of spellings for the final consonant were influenced by whether they used one letter or more than one letter to spell the preceding vowel. Specifically, participants tended to use extended consonant spellings when they spelled the vowel with one letter and simple consonant spellings when they spelled the vowel with more than one letter. This held true whether the vowel was phonologically short or long. The findings pose problems for models of the spelling process according to which people use different spellings of a phoneme in accordance with the frequency of the phoneme-to-grapheme links in the vocabulary as a whole but in which the choices are not influenced by context. The findings also pose problems for models according to which phonological context but not graphic context can influence the choice among spelling options. Models that behave in this manner, including the best-developed computational model of the spelling process to date, need to be modified so as to take graphic context into account.

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